DISCLAIMER: The Facts of Life and its characters are the property of Columbia Pictures Television and Sony Pictures Television, no infringement intended.
AUTHOR'S NOTE: A special thank you to mrswoman for taking time out of her busy holiday schedule to beta this one.
ARCHIVING: Only with the permission of the author.
Keeping Up with the Joneses
"Hey guys, have you seen the latest from the Joneses?" Natalie called out the question the minute she stepped through the door.
Tootie flopped her head back against the sofa and groaned. "Great; guess we'll be taking another trip to that Christmas store. When Jo finds out, she'll . . ."
"Nat, Tootie! C'mon, we've got to get down to Martin's Decorating Center and buy us one of those inflatable Santas. Jones has put up a five foot snowman." Jo slammed the back door, yelling her orders before she'd even reached the den. She burst into the room and stood just inside the doorway.
Tootie turned her head towards their friend. "But you said those inflatable thingies were cheap looking and that there was nothing wrong with making Santa out of plywood."
"Well, that was before; I've changed my mind. This is war, Tootie, and drastic times call for drastic measure. Now, get a move on you two, time's a-wastin'."
Tootie leaned forward and hung her head while Natalie grinned widely. She loved the idea of going to war against the Joneses.
"Damn it; why won't he stay standing?" Jo adjusted the stakes in the ground, but Jolly Ol' Saint Nick kept tilting to one side or the other.
Natalie glanced over at the Joneses'snowman. "I don't get it; Frosty is standing nice and tall despite the sun beating down on him."
"Well, Frosty's not eight feet tall either. I imagine the extra height is causing the problem." Jo muttered from her knees as she moved the stake a few inches to the left.
"Can't you just tie him to a tree?" Blair suggested with a gesture to the tree she sat comfortably under as she watched her friends struggle with Santa.
"You can't tie Santa to a tree, Blair," Tootie tsked, shaking her head at the horrible suggestion.
"No kidding, it'd look like we were holding him for ransom or something. The city council's decorating committee would probably have us arrested." Natalie stepped next to Tootie, providing a united front against Blair's appalling idea.
Jo ignored the comments and stared at Santa. Her gaze slowly moved to the tree, followed by the makings of a smile. By the time she spoke, it had grown into a full-fledged grin.
"What a wonderful idea, Princess." Jo pushed to her feet and walked over to their tools and equipment, digging to the bottom of the pile until she'd found some rope. She began to work on a lasso as she made her way back towards Santa.
The three other women watched their friend, wondering exactly what Jo had in mind. Her toss of the rope over Santa's head made her idea crystal clear to those who stood innocently by.
"Jo! You can't hang Santa." Natalie stomped over, waving her arms frantically. "We'll never win the contest if you string him up. There'll be so many protesters we'll have to move."
"Nat's right," Tootie chimed in, "next thing you know, you'll be stringing the reindeer from the branches."
Jo glared at her friends. "Well, have you two got a better idea?"
"Can't we just prop him up against the house?" Natalie glanced over towards the house, searching for the perfect location.
"You can't put him against the house." Blair stood and walked over to join the threesome. "He's the focal point of the decorations. If you stick him against the house, he'll just look like some bit player."
Jo grinned and winked at the blonde. "How about a compromise? Tootie, go see if you can find some clear fishing line in the garage; that way no one will be the wiser as to how Santa is standing."
Natalie canted her head and stared at Jo, appearing as if she were undecided about the idea of using fishing line, but the truth of the matter was that she could've sworn she'd seen Jo wink at Blair and wondered if there really was such a thing as a Christmas miracle.
"There." Jo stood back from Santa, pleased that the inflatable Claus was standing on his own. She glanced over her shoulder at the Joneses' yard. "Let's see them top this one."
Natalie and Blair stepped next to Jo and looked up at the now stable Santa.
"You're right, Jo, I can't see the fishing line, and I'm practically standing under it," Natalie nodded her head in approval. If she couldn't see it, then the decorating committee wouldn't be able to see it either.
"Hey Jo, now that Santa's standing on his own, do you think you could drive me to the library? I've got a final tomorrow, and I need to do some research." Blair smiled sweetly.
Jo shrugged. "Sure, I don't see why not. Let me put the tools away and then I'm all yours."
Natalie frowned as she watched Blair watch Jo walk away. Something was very wrong with the picture she was receiving. Maybe the war with the Joneses had brought about a temporary truce between the two. Shrugging, Natalie walked back towards the house.
Blair moved her gaze from Jo to Natalie and Tootie as they headed away. She then followed Jo to the garage, looking over her shoulder before she stepped inside.
"Nice work with Santa, Jo."
"Yeah, he's kind of growing on me, and you're right about him being the focal point of the decorations. He makes them shine. We're a shoo-in for first place." Jo placed the ladder against the far wall and made her way towards Blair.
"So, what test do you have tomorrow?"
"I don't have a test." Blair grinned. "I thought we could catch a matinee. The back row should be empty at this time of day."
Returning the grin, Jo grabbed Blair by the hand and pulled her towards the door. "Well then, what are we waiting for?"
Laughing aloud, Blair allowed herself to be tugged along. Jo hadn't even asked what was showing.
A couple of hours later, Jo released a pair of swollen lips and leaned back in her seat. Blair placed her head on her girlfriend's shoulder and sighed. The credits were slowly rolling across the screen.
"I really wish we didn't have to sneak around behind everyone's back."
"I know, Princess, but we have to for now. In a couple of years, when we both graduate and get jobs, we can afford an apartment of our own."
Blair slowly raised her head. "Jobs?"
Natalie peered out the window, her eyes wide at the sight.
"Tootie, come see! The Joneses have strung more lights."
"You're kidding." Tootie moved over to stand next to her friend, the lights from across the street practically blinding her. "We'll be lucky if an airplane doesn't land on our heads."
"Jo's going to have a heart attack when she sees what Jones has done now." Natalie emphatically shook her head, totally agreeing with her own assessment.
"Oh no, now we're going to have to go back to Martin's." Tootie checked her watch. "Good thing they're already closed or else we'd be stringing lights in the dark."
"I'm just glad they don't open until ten tomorrow morning. Jo's going to insist that we be there the moment they flip over the closed sign. At least we'll get to sleep in."
"Yeah, you're right about that." Tootie continued to look at the lights, marveling at how the entire roof was covered in the tiny lights.
"Hey, Tootie," Natalie turned towards her friend, "have you noticed how nice Jo's been to Blair lately?"
"Nice? What do you mean?"
"Nice, you know, as in not arguing or bickering or constantly finding fault with anything Blair's done."
"Hmm," Tootie scrunched up her brow in thought, "now that you mention it, Blair's been kind of sweet towards Jo, too."
"I guess the Christmas spirit has infected them." Natalie's words had barely left her lips when the front door opened, revealing the subjects of their conversation.
Jo crossed the room with determination. "Be up and ready early, guys; I want to be at Martin's when they open the doors. We've got some lights to string." Jo continued her path towards the stairs with Blair following closely behind.
Natalie and Tootie waited until their friends had made it to the top of the stairs before voicing their thoughts, so focused on the next day's events that neither noticed how swollen both women's lips were.
"I told you, Nat; we're going to be on top of that roof all day tomorrow."
"Uh-uh, not me, I'm scared of heights. I'll just stay on the ground and ready the lights." Natalie started for the stairs.
"I guess it'll be just me and Jo then; there's no way Blair's climbing up a ladder, that's for sure." Tootie followed her friend, deciding that perhaps she should go to bed early. Tomorrow was going to be a long day.
"Hey Blair, did you accidentally bite your lip while you were sleeping?" Natalie sipped on her coffee, waiting for her toast to pop out of the toaster.
Blair unconsciously licked the lip in question. "Yeah, I must've."
Jo watched the pink tongue swipe across the miniscule cut. She'd have to remember to apologize to Blair later, but right now, there were more pressing matters. She quickly checked her watch.
"I want to leave in thirty minutes, so get a move on you three."
Natalie put her foot down. "I'm not leaving until I've had breakfast."
"Fine; just hurry about it, okay?" Jo looked up at the kitchen clock to be certain her watch wasn't running slow. "I'm going out to the garage to see if we have any strands of lights we haven't used."
Tootie watched Jo step through the back door before turning her attention to Blair.
"Blair, maybe if you cut Jo off, she'd stop this ridiculous war with the Joneses."
Blair almost spit her orange juice across the table.
"Oh c'mon, Tootie; Jo would still find a way to buy up the decorating supplies even if Blair wasn't bankrolling the operation."
Blair sat back and tried to relax. "Natalie's right, Tootie. When Jo's got her mind set on something, nothing's going to stop her." And for that, Blair was grateful. She'd have never made the first move.
Tootie slid to her feet. "Well, I'm going to get dressed. If you two know what's good for you, you'll hurry along."
Natalie willed the toaster to give up her toast.
Hours later, Jo knelt on the roof and carefully stapled another segment of the strand of lights to the roof. Natalie held onto the other end of the strand with one hand and the chimney with the other. Her fear of Jo was far worse than her fear of heights.
Tootie watched the activity from the top of her ladder as she peered over the edge of the roof. "Looking good, Jo; I bet Jones is wishing he'd thought of spelling something out with his lights instead of just stapling them back and forth."
"Yeah, he didn't even try to make a design of any kind." Natalie looked across the way, taking advantage of her bird's eye view. She subconsciously tightened her hold on the bricks of the chimney.
"Only three more letters to go; hope we have enough lights." Jo pushed another staple in place.
"Hey, Blair!" Tootie looked down at the ground and waited for her friend to make eye contact. "How many strands we got left?"
Blair dumped the contents of the bag on the ground. "Two!"
Jo heard the number and smiled; her calculations had been perfect. She edged over to staple the end of her current strand when a shingle suddenly decided to break loose. The resulting curse echoed from the top of the roof to the eave a few feet from Tootie and finally to the ground below. Blair's scream followed immediately after the rather loud splat.
"I don't want to hear another word about decorations; you march yourself up those stairs and get into bed." Mrs. Garrett's no-nonsense tone brokered no arguments from the injured Jo. She just mounted the stairs and slowly made her way to her room, the stark white of the sling, holding her broken arm, almost matched the color of her face.
"The rest of you girls go clean up the front yard." Mrs. Garrett followed Jo up the stairs and into the room. She'd lost years off her life when she'd run outside to find Jo lying motionless on the ground.
Natalie hung her head and started for the door. "C'mon, let's put away the ladder and extra lights."
Tootie nodded and followed her friend while Blair hesitated at the bottom of the stairs. She kept her gaze on the closed bedroom door, her mind at war with her body. She wanted nothing more than to run up the stairs and hold Jo. Wiping a tear from her eye, she headed for the front yard where she found Natalie and Tootie standing in the middle of the yard, looking up at the roof.
"So much for winning the contest." Natalie sighed, looking over her shoulder at the Joneses' house.
"Yeah, I think the decorating committee is going to take exception to our message."
Blair looked up at the roof for the first time. She'd been so busy readying the lights that she had no idea how far along Jo had gotten with her spelling. Squinting, she could just make out the scrawling letters, 'Merry Christ.'
"Tying Santa to a tree wouldn't have been this bad." Tootie shook her head and stared up at the winding lights.
"Um, do you think you two can put everything away? I'd like to check on Jo and be sure she's settled in." Blair couldn't get the image of Jo's fall from her mind. She just kept seeing her girlfriend lying on the ground broken.
Natalie shrugged. "Sure, Blair; we can handle it."
Blair just nodded and turned back towards the house. Tootie leaned in closer to Natalie.
"Blair really freaked out when Jo fell."
"Of course she did, Tootie. We all did."
Tootie watched a worrisome Blair step into the house. "Yeah, I guess."
Blair looked down at the bed where Jo lay sleeping. Mrs. Garrett had asked her to stay with Jo while she prepared something special for the injured woman, and Blair had pulled up a chair, gladly agreeing to sit with Jo. She couldn't wait to be alone with the other woman.
"Oh, Jo." Blair reached out and gently slid her hand on top of Jo's. "You really scared me."
The warm touch and whispered voice crept past the dense fog of Jo's medicated state. A pair of eyelids fluttered, struggling to break free from the mist which surrounded her.
"Please wake up, Jo; I need so see your beautiful eyes. I need to know that you're okay."
The heartfelt plea was just the impetus needed for the final push through the fog. Blue eyes opened slowly and locked onto dark ones. Jo smiled.
"Hey there, Princess; you're certainly a sight for sore eyes."
Blair frowned at the mention of sore eyes. She reached out to brush the hair from Jo's forehead. "Did you hit your head, too?"
Jo laughed. "No, if I had, I'd be perfectly fine."
"That's true." Blair smiled for the first time since Jo had fallen. "I'm glad to see that you're finally admitting to having such a hard head."
"Oh, I've always known I've had a hard head; it's my best quality."
Blair chuckled. "Well, I'm going to have to disagree with you there. You see, I happen to know what your best quality is."
Jo leered as best she could with the pain she felt. "Oh really, and what might that be."
"I'm not telling; it'd surely go to your head, and we can't have that now, can we."
"No, we can't." Jo smiled easily, but a sudden thought eased it from her face. "Damn, I guess Jones is going to win this year. I think those lights would've put us over the top."
Blair squeezed the hand she held. "Me, too, but that's not important anymore."
"No, I guess not." Jo looked down at her arm. "It would've been nice to take the title away from him though."
"There's always next year, Jo," Blair assured, glancing over her shoulder to note that Mrs. Garrett had closed the door on her way out. Taking advantage of the quiet moment, she leaned down and softly kissed Jo's lips.
"Okay, Jo, you've been up long enough. You need to get back to bed." Mrs. Garrett began to clear the dishes from the table.
"Aw, Mrs. G., can't I just lie on the couch for awhile. I've been cooped up in that bedroom all day."
"Jo, you had a terrible fall; you need to rest. Maybe tomorrow you can move to the couch, okay?" Mrs. Garrett eased her tone, hoping that Jo would see reason. The ploy worked perfectly.
"Oh, alright, I guess it won't kill me to rest." Jo pushed away from the table.
"Hey, Jo?" Natalie stood and moved towards her friend. "Mind taking a detour outside for a few minutes?"
"Now, Natalie " Mrs. Garrett objected.
"It's okay, Mrs. Garrett. Jo wouldn't have to go far, really." Tootie came to Natalie's defense. Mrs. Garrett stared at the two girls, wondering what they had up their sleeves. Jo didn't care what it was, just as long as her confinement to the bed had been postponed for a few more minutes.
"Okay, but I'm coming, too." Mrs. Garrett placed the dirty dishes back onto the table.
"Me, too." Blair pushed to her feet and moved to the other side of Jo.
"Great." Natalie smiled and started towards the door as the others trailed behind.
Jo's eyes immediately trekked across the street the minute they'd stepped outside. The Joneses' house was lit up, and she had to squint to see where Natalie had gone. Finally, she spotted her friend standing in the middle of the street, facing their house. Sighing, she walked down the drive and into the street. She couldn't believe her eyes when she turned back towards the house. The script was different, but it was complete. The lights now offered passers-by the sentiment of 'Merry Christmas.'
"Like it?" Natalie was grinning from ear to ear.
"How who " Jo sputtered her confusion.
"Tootie stapled down the strands, but it was my idea."
"Yeah, and Nat held onto the other end."
Natalie laughed. "Not as tightly as I held onto the chimney though."
The group lightly chuckled as they stood and admired the finished product, the lights were tastefully done and so much better than the haphazard string job Jones had done on his house.
"Very nice work, you two, but it's time Jo went back inside. We don't need you getting sick, too, Jo."
Mrs. Garrett started towards the house with Natalie and Tootie, trailing behind.
"Give me just another second, Mrs. G?" Jo took in the rest of the decorations, marveling at how perfectly they were placed.
"Okay, but only a second." Mrs. G nodded, calling back, "Blair, make sure she gets back inside safely."
"I will, Mrs. Garrett." Blair had every intention of making sure Jo stayed safe.
"They look great, don't they?" Jo moved her focus back to the lights.
"Yes, they do. I can't believe Tootie and Natalie finished without anyone else knowing."
Jo chuckled. "I can't believe Tootie didn't tell anyone."
Blair joined in the laughter as she leaned into her girlfriend, watching as Jo focused on the roof and traced the lights, one by one, from the 'M' to the 'S.' She slid her hand into Blair's.
"Merry Christmas, Blair."
"Merry Christmas, Jo."
The two stood in the middle of the street, enjoying the fruits of their labor, but more importantly, enjoying their time together.
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